||Society (from Latin sociare, â€˜to join togetherâ€™) is one of the key concepts in sociology. In everyday usage the term society is normally applied to nation-states and political boundaries. Within sociology the concept of society is also used in this sense, but this is not always the case as societies do not necessarily correspond to political boundaries. For sociologists, the term has a broader application which incorporates the totality of human relationships.
In essence, a society is a system of interrelationships which binds individuals together in a social group. Individual group members occupy a relatively bounded territory, sharing a common culture and way of life. Different societies may have a distinctive language, patterns of dress, social institutions, customs, traditions and systems of government. Each individual is aware of a common identity shared with other members of the society.
The notion of society is intimately bound up with that of culture. No society could exist without culture, but equally no culture could exist without society. A society\'s culture embraces the whole way of life shared by group members and includes modes of dress, customs and traditions, language, patterns of work, family life, religious beliefs and ceremonies, and leisure pursuits. Culture also includes norms and values. Values are shared abstract ideas about what is desirable, proper, good and bad. Norms are definite principles and rules which group members are excepted to observe. For example, in Western societies a prominent value is being faithful to a single partner. In many other cultures a person may be permitted to have several wives or husbands simultaneously. It is the cultural variations between human groups which distinguishes different types of society.
The culture of a given society is passed on from generation to generation through the process of socialization. The main agencies of childhood socialization are the family, the school and peer groups. Socialization is, however, a continuous process throughout adult life as new experiences and social situations are encountered.
Sociologists have distinguished between different types of society. It should be noted, however, that while the different categories are broadly similar, considerable variations exist within each group.
In hunter-gatherer societies, the people do not grow crops or keep livestock, rather they live by gathering plants and hunting animals. Tribal societies are held together socially, culturally, and physically by blood relations, and they may be pastoral or agrarian. In pastoral societies, the raising of domesticated animals provides the major source of livelihood. Agrarian societies depend on the cultivation of fixed plots of land. Larger, more developed agrarian societies may form traditional states. A distinct type of agrarian society is feudal society in which unfree peasants hold land on condition of payment of rent in labour, in kind or in cash. In western Europe, between the 15th and 18th centuries, feudal societies were succeeded by capitalist societies. Capitalist societies are based on the private ownership of the means of production and an economy geared to making profit. In eastern Europe, for most of the 20th century, feudalism was succeeded by communist societies, based on the principle of the absence of private property. In industrialized societies (which may be capitalist or communist), industrial production is the main basis of the economy industrial techniques are also used in food production.
Sociologists also refer to postindustrial society, a concept formulated by D. Bell in the 1960s to describe the result of social and economic changes in the late 20th century: the declining dependence on manufacturing industry, the rise of new service industries, and a new emphasis on the role of knowledge in production, consumption and leisure. On the whole, however, there is generally little acceptance that modern societies have moved beyond industrialism in any of the senses Bell suggested. Modern societies tend to be culturally diverse embracing a wide range of different subcultures, whereas small societies tend to be culturally quite uniform.
Although the concept of society is a basic one in sociology it is not without its difficulties, and disputes surround its use. Critics have pointed out that although the concept can be quite readily applied, in its common-sense meaning, to well-established nation-states, the identification of societal boundaries is more problematic in the case of traditional states, which were usually comprised of fairly loose assemblies of different peoples with little conception of a collective identity.
A further issue that can create difficulties is the question as to the point at which an historically changing society should or should not be treated as the same society.
Increasingly, social and economic relationships are stretching worldwide, and many aspects of people\'s lives are influenced by organizations and social networks thousands of miles away from the societies in which they live. This has led some theorists to caution against an over-emphasis on the concept of unitary societies, which may lead to a failure to give sufficient attention to the importance of global connections.
Within sociology, the term society is also used in a slightly different sense. Ã‰mile Durkheim, one of the founding fathers of sociology, conceived of society as a distinct object. As the object of study in sociology, society in this sense was distinct from and greater than the sum total of the individuals who comprised it. For Durkheim, society was a â€˜moral powerâ€™ which was external to its individual members and constrained and shaped their actions and behaviour. The use of society conceptualized in this way has been a source of contentious debate within sociology, and contemporary sociologists are increasingly reluctant about conceptualizing society in this way. DA
See also assimilation; capital; community; convergence thesis; dependency theory; diffusionism; evolutionism; functionalism; generalized other; globalization; historical sociology; internalization; religion; role; social integration; social self; state; structuralism; structure; structure-agency debate; suicide; theories of modernity; world system; urbanism/urbanization.Further reading R. Benedict, Patterns of Culture (1946); , P. Worsley, The Three Worlds: Culture and World Development.